Fix-it clinics are a win-win proposition
Nov. 25, 2013
by Ivan Raconteur

I have devoted much space in this column over the years to pointing out the absurdity in life.

As pleasant as that is, I am just as happy sharing stories of hope and sensible behavior once in awhile for the sake of variety, if for no other reason.

My subject today is one of those positive stories. It is a rare case in which everyone wins.

I don’t mean one of those fake deals, like those pretend sports they have now in which everyone gets a trophy or a ribbon so no one’s feelings get hurt, even if they suck at whatever the activity is.

Nor is this the kind of “everybody wins” promises one might hear on a carnival midway.

This is the real deal, and the most surprising thing about it is there is a government entity involved.

OK, maybe that last bit was a cheap shot, but it has to be said, “government” and “common sense” aren’t found together all that often.

I heard about this program from a friend, whom I admire for her sound judgement, sense of humor, and sweet golf swing.

She recently attended a Hennepin County fix-it clinic.

Apparently, one need not reside in Hennepin County to attend one of these.

My friend was able to get her hair straightener fixed (two thermal fuses replaced) for free. She said all around her, volunteers were helping people fix their appliances and other items.

Not all items can be repaired, but, as my friend quite correctly pointed out, it is worth a shot before throwing the item in a landfill.

I don’t own a hair straightener that needs repair, but the concept of a fix-it clinic sounds brilliant.

Here is how Hennepin County describes the concept:

“At Fix-It Clinics, residents bring in small household appliances, clothing, electronics, mobile devices, and more, and receive free guided assistance from a volunteer with repair skills to disassemble, troubleshoot, and fix their item.”

These fix-it Clinics teach valuable troubleshooting and basic repair skills. Some people learn these things from their parents, but not everyone is that lucky.

The clinics also build community connections.

They bring together people who might otherwise never meet. They work together solving common problems. It is conceivable this could breed understanding and a sense of community.

One of the key benefits of the clinics is they reduce the amount of stuff that gets thrown in the trash.

Volunteers have skills in soldering, electronics and electrical repair, computer repair, sewing, and general tinkering, and have a strong desire to teach and empower people, according to Hennepin County.

There are a lot of good things going on here.

People who have items that don’t work may be able to get them fixed for free. That is welcome news at a time when money is tight for so many people.

The clinics can also help build confidence. The owners of the non-working items can learn how to troubleshoot problems and possibly make repairs on their own.

One presumes the clinics are good entertainment for volunteers, who likely enjoy the challenge and satisfaction of figuring out how to make an item work again, and sharing their experience with others.

We have been living in a throw-away society for so long, there are probably a lot of people out there who never learned how to do even simple repairs. These clinics may help to reverse that trend.

The clinics also help to prolong the life of products, and keep them out of landfills.

Hennepin County began organizing fix-it clinics last year.

The concept started in the Netherlands about four years ago, and it has been growing into an international movement.

This is a relatively new program, but at its core is a concept that goes back as far as people have been living together.

Helping one’s neighbors is a very old idea.

We are all better at some things than others, so if we pool our experiences and abilities, it makes us stronger as a group.

By working together in a cooperative and supportive way, everyone gets the things they need.

The fix-it clinics are a new idea, based on an old concept, and they may represent the kind of thinking we need if we are going to survive in the future.

If we design things to be more durable, and then maintain them instead of throwing them away, we will reduce the stress on our landfills.

And, if we share our knowledge and ability, rather than adopting an “every man for himself” attitude, we will all look smarter and live better.

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